The Rise of Militant Islam and the Security State in the Era of the ‘Long War’

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This paper distinguishes between political and militant Islam and analyses the latter's current ability to confront empire and to become a social force in Muslim-majority states. This analysis is within the dialectic of collaboration and resistance, starting with client postcolonial states' pivotal role in bringing to fruition the collaboration between political Islam and US imperialism during the cold war era. The post-cold war period signals the imperialist putsch to confront militant Islam in the ‘Long War’ by employing the cold war strategy of ‘permanent war’ and universalising the idea of the security state. Militant Islam's resistance to the Long War and the security state makes this two-pronged imperial strategy a losing proposition for the USA. Paradoxically this strategy has also become the prime mover for militant Islam's ascendancy. The paper addresses the paradox of the USA's continuation with its losing Long War strategy and securitisation agenda which, although providing succour to militant Islam, is also achieving its larger objectives to buttress capitalist globalism; fuel the military–industrial and security–industrial complexes; and support ‘big oil’.

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The new Orientalism idea is predicated on the clash of civilisations thesis of Samuel Huntington and others—an outlook which has spread swiftly in Western states since September 11. I explore the implications of the new Orientalism and the assertion of white supremacy for diaspora Muslims in Western societies. Its expression in the media in the form of raced and gendered portrayals and demonised cultural representations of Muslims and Islam, with the accompanying assumption of the superiority of Western culture, is identified here as incendiary racism. This racism also underpins the simultaneous vilification of Muslims and Islam, a claim supported by my analysis of media coverage of the 'niqab debate', terrorism and sports. Thus, at one level, I analyse the Western media's depictions. At another, I examine the consequences of securitisation and the Long War, and critically assess the argument that securitisation has existed from time immemorial and represents nothing new—which leads me to challenge its ahistorical assumptions, and the treatment of the securitiser and the securitised as coeval.
The article offers an alternative to Eurocentric understandings of political Islam and now militant Islam—the two phenomena are distinguished—as an analysis of modernity, power, and the political is offered in relation to political Islam’s characterization by modernists and civilizational theorists. This alternative perspective is useful to grasp the powerful new social reality in the form of militant Islam that has been unleashed since the end of the Cold War: altering culture, language, social, and political policy, while targeting women in many Muslim-majority societies. I argue that political Islam has to be conceived historically as a political phenomenon with a range of diverse manifestations that began to emerge during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as anticolonial movements and national liberation struggles became visible in colonized areas of Asia and Africa. Political Islam’s emergence in the colonial context had two distinct responses: first, to engage with ideas of modernity, and, second, to contest and reject Western modernity by positing Islamic revivalism within the ambit of pan-Muslim nationalism. In the current context, the culturalist idiom has been employed equally by the forces of empire and militant/political Islam, but the latter has been more effective in galvanizing support. To make sense of this rise of militant Islam, the article examines the specific histories of political and militant Islam, the Muslim philosophers’ engagement with the issue of “power” and the “political” in Islam and the unfolding dialectic of collaboration and resistance between political/militant Islam and the United States. The article’s conclusion is that despite using the culturalist terrain of modernity to demonize the two tendencies in contemporary Islam, the United States’ imperial drive and the role of client Muslim-majority states remain central in the rise of political and militant Islam.
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